Joho the BlogMay 2006 - Joho the Blog

May 31, 2006

GoAl Gore site looking for ideas, content and stuff

Brad of set up with a WordPress installation. (It may not be reachable by you yet – is working for me at the moment but not Now all we need to do is set it up with content so powerful that Gore takes one look at it and decides he has to run.

Maybe it should be a site where people can post their reasons for wanting Gore to run, with links to resources, etc. Anyone want to take this on? Or do you have a better idea? (I’m in the middle of book stuff and can’t get to site-building right now, even if I had any good ideas.) [Tags: ]


Bradsucks’ open source guitar

BradSucks has posted some potential designs for the guitar he’s sanding down. Feel free to alter the PhotoShop.psd file he’s posted… [Tags: ]

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GoAl Gore!


“Re-Elect Al Gore in 2008” has become the meme du jour, and I hope the meme du next-two-years. Unlike John Kerry, Gore has learned and grown from his near-defeat. He’s not only the Democrats’ best candidate, he has the makings of a great leader. His speeches in the past couple of years have been unafraid and full of fire. And he is committed to an issue that can define the Democrats (as well as save the world).

Apparently, and understandably, he doesn’t want to go through the nightmare of a campaign again. (Remember how the media shamelessly bought into the Republican lie that he was a liar, and this when running against The Great Prevaricator?) So, what can we do to persuade him that Democrats and independents — and maybe even a couple of Republicans — will vote for him and will work for him?

(FWIW, I’ve taken the domains and I just registered them this morning and there’s nothing there yet. I don’t have any good ideas about what to do with them — it was a $18 impulse purchase. If you have an idea for how to use them constructively, let me know and you can have them…) [Tags: ]


Why Bush won

Completely unfair, but not untrue. Also, funny. (Thanks to Mark Dionne for the link.) [Tags: ]


Three-column CSS success (and a challenge)

If you checked my blog this morning (Boston time) you might have thought your browsing was flaky because columns were strewn hither and yon. Then, if you bothered to reload, they’d be re-strewn in random ways. Sorry. I was working out the kinks in my CSS layout.

But I’ve finally gotten it just about exactly where I want it: Three columns of equal length, with the middle resizable, and colors flush from one margin to another. Plus it seems to work as well in IE as in Firefox. It took many many many hours of work and the unstinting help of some generous readers, but it all came together when I discovered an obscure CSS capability. It’s called a table.

Ok, so I’m being a jerk. Using a table – an information structure – as a layout tool is the anti-CSS. But after breaking this page pretty badly this morning, and after losing another couple of hours of work time just trying to get it back to basic functionality, I gave in and gave up on CSS. For now. Despite the truly generous help of readers, I could not get it to work. The closest I came was to have a pretty good version in Firefox that, nevertheless, had infinite columns running past the footer. And I never got it to work simultaneously in IE, despite trying untold combinations.

I do understand why CSS is the right way to go. I spent most of the late ’80s proselytizing for Interleaf, an innovator in structured editing and declarative markup. I wrote a book on using Lisp to manage structured documents. I was one of the founders of SGML Open (now OASIS). I wouldn’t be caught dead hitting the Enter key twice to separate paragraphs in Word. I’m no expert, but I grasp the basic argument and believe in it. But I couldn’t get CSS to do what I want. It defeated me, to my embarrassment. And if someone wants to do the job right for me, I will not only thank them, I will give her a gift or donate more than that to a charity we agree on. (Talk to me beforehand so we agree about how much I’m paying.)

Here’s what I mean by “right”:

3 column layout, with columns of equal length that size to the longest column. (Compromise: The middle column inevitably is the longest.)

A header and footer, centered

The columns are colored as on this page and touch at the margins The center column’s width resizes when the user resizes the window

The “table” is centered on the page 8px padding

The user can swap in 4 different stylesheets (as per the “Colorblind” option on my home page) The user can toggle the sidebars on and off

The styles are as on my home page

Oversize elements in the center column don’t break the layout

It works in IE, Firefox, Opera, et al.

That is, “works” means that it looks like my current home page in the standard browsers and doesn’t break under normal use.

Until then, I am beaten and humiliated.


May 30, 2006

[harvard] Victor Pérez-Diaz

Víctor Pérez-Díaz of Harvard’s Center for European Studies is talking about his paper, Markets as Conversations. He is the author of 30 books, most recently several on civil society. [As always, I am at best paraphrasing.]

He says the most important part of this paper are sections 3 and 4 where he interprets markets as conversations. These conversations generally are implicit and non-verbal, but they help to shape the public sphere, politics and policy. [I’m sitting behind him and can hear him only intermittently.]

Emma Rothchild responds after Pérez-Diaz’s summary. She looks at various historic reactions to markets. [ I can pretty well hear her, but I’m missing some still.]

The word “market,” she says, was quite concrete in the 18th century, so stopping a market was a very concrete action: Preventing a person from taking produce for sale, e.g. Arthur Young [I’m getting this name embarrassingly wrong] she says has a diatribe against the French peasant who walked for days to sell a dozen eggs at market. The peasant isn’t valuing his time, he says. But a Marxist commentator [couldn’t hear the name] said that the diatribe misses the mark because the market wasn’t just about the transaction. It was also about getting the news and gossip, meeting friends, etc.

She talks about some of the historic worries about markets. Adam Smith was concerned about “corporations”, i.e., islands of non-market relationships. Some worried about markets backed by state coercive power. In the 19th C, some wondered if markets made people more passive — people becoming more concerned with trivial matters. She also raises concerns about unequal participation in markets by women, ethnic distinctions, etc. “This takes us to the realm of violence, of national security, of the non-market. Many of us have the sense that that realm is increasing in the past two or three years in Europe. Probably in this country as well.”

Perhaps, she says, technology has “prodigiously extended” markets. The anonymity of the Internet goes against some of the positive processes Pérez-Diaz points at. Meanwhile the technologies of persuasion work against market openness, as does the rise of the national security state.

Pérez-Diaz replies that he does not expect the market to solve problems such as universal hatred. And, he says, conversations are very ambiguous. His paper talks about Rilke’s characterization of Cezanne’s artistic process as a conversation of paint with paint. [It’s a lovely passage.]

Q: It’s not clear to me if you mean “conversation” as a way of regulating markets or as a characterization of markets. And your notion of protecting the market from politics marks you as of a particular generation of social thinkers. I think we need to protect politics from the market.
A: I don’t mean conversations as the talk around the market that regulates it. And politics and markets are interconnected.

Q: Markets are limited even when they’re at their best. Market conversations are about anything that’s for sale. But we don’t want everything to be sale, and we want to have conversations also about things are not for sale.
A: (He explains that that’s not what he meant.)

Q: I worry about the overuse of the term “conversation.” And I’m not as optimistic as you.
A: [I couldn’t hear. Plus I have to leave. Damn.]

[It seems to me that not only are markets conversations (thank you, Doc), but the Internet is erasing the distinction. When I read reviews at Amazon — a marketplace — written by people who may not have bought the book or people who already bought it elsewhere — the market and the conversation are indistinguishable. Likewise when I use and read what people write. Even when I buy a commodity from the lowest possible supplier, there may be reviews on the site or I may have gotten there by engaging in conversations on other sites. Not only are markets conversations in that we’re talking with one another, the marketplaces are themselves becoming inseparable from those conversations.]


Sidewalk Neutrality

Bob Frankston has an extended and brilliant piece that wonders what strolling on a sidewalk would be like if it were managed with the same logic the telcos use to justify Net discrimination. [Tags: ]


Markets are conversations – Non-Cluetrain edition

I’m going to a talk today by Victor Pérez-Diaz called “Markets as Conversations.” It’s being held at Harvard’s Center for European Studies, 12:15-2pm in the Cabot Room at 27 Kirkland Street in Cambridge. The paper of the same name is about how markets influence politics, culture and society. Looks fascinating and I’m sorry I’ll have to leave early for a chat.

From the author’s summary:

The points I intend to make here are, basically, three: (a) that markets should be
understood, in an ideal-typical manner, as part of a general social order which I refer to
by the ancient expression ‘civil society’ (CS); (b) that markets reinforce that order by
shaping and influencing culture, politics and society so that they proceed, or function,
in a civil manner; and (c) that we may get a better grasp of the way markets act and
achieve this effect by developing an understanding of markets as conversations.

I develop a view of markets as conversations, that is, as a system of communication (mostly, but not entirely,
by non-linguistic means) which works as an educational mechanism shaping people’s
habits. In turn, these habits may help them to develop a complex of capacities and
dispositions, of civil and civic virtues, which we can bracket together under the rubric
of ‘civility’.

The paper has nothing to do with the Internet and does not mention Cluetrain or Doc. Nevertheless, I’m bringing Prof. Pérez-Diaz a copy of the book ;) [Tags: ]


May 29, 2006

Weekly World News breaks my heart

In my many years of relying on The Weekly World News to bring me the stories others fear to report — “Boxer knocks opponent into last century,” “Couple fall in love when they meet in tornado,” “Carpal tuna syndrome” — I was distressed to read a small-print notification on the bottom of page two:

Weekly World News articles are drawn from different sources and most are fictitious. Weekly World News uses invented names in many of its stories, except in cases where public figures are being satirized. Any other use of real names is accidental and coincidental. The reader should suspend belief for the sake of enjoyment.

Damn lawyers!

Besides, aren’t we supposed to suspend disbelief? [Tags: ]


Unlocking the secret of invisibility

In this new theory, which is from that used on modern “stealth” bombers, which bounce radar off their surfaces so they cannot be seen, an object would be encased in a shell of metamaterials and they would create an illusion akin to a mirage, said David Schurig of Duke University in North Carolina, who worked on a second report, which also appears in the latest Science journal.

“Think of space as a woven cloth,” Schurig said. “Imagine making a hole in the cloth by inserting a pointed object between the threads without tearing them.”

The light, or microwaves, or radar would travel along the threads of the cloth, ending up behind the object without having touched it. – Xinhuanet

So, boring turns out to be the secret to invisibility in both the material and online worlds…

Unfortunately, being interesting does not guarantee visibility in the online one.

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